Tag Archives: backpacking

Colombia

27 Oct

I can still taste Colombia – it’s Limonada de Cocoa – slightly sweet, sexy and a refreshing way to cut the heat. It’s blended mangos con agua with sugar, it’s lulo, a fruit that I had never heard of before until I arrived.

It’s Paisa breakfast, so hungover from Aguacaliente that I can barely keep my head up. It’s beans, rice, sausage and chicharron. It’s drinking straight from the bottle and salsa. It’s a man inviting me to dance, a caballero, with a two week old, whose wife is at home, as she should be – taking care of the bebe.

It’s him proudly showing me photos while giving me the eyes – always naughty, always dangerous and yet seeped in tradition, national pride. It’s knowing I could get stabbed at a soccer game, if I was a man who wasn’t wearing a millionarios scarf. It’s standing on the side of the road, waiting for the bus to come, hopping on as it almost stops and then listening to boleros for two hours, wanting to stuff cotton into my ears.

It’s going to the square with Fiorella and Marisa, while negotiating our way onto a boat and jetting off to Playa Blanca. It’s watching shirtless boys hang off the side of the boat, hoping to be taken away from what they were born to – creatures of the sea and island life; future fisherman with threadbare possibilities.

It’s going even further North, to ‘The Dream Hostel,’ and disappointing a man who I told to, “meet me there.” It’s making eyes, drunkenly, at Lancelot, the French bartender who had walked away from everything two years before. It’s going to a club, and standing on a wooden block, shaking, shimmying and observing who I’d want to give myself to.

It’s Raul’s green eyes, flashing, as he tells me, “tu estas loca,” and I laugh and ask, “por que?” and he grabs my hand and twirls me around because it’s Cartagena and we just won the game.

It’s being airlifted above the communas with the three Australians I was trailing because I was too afraid to take the subway alone. It’s going to an art museum that has three rooms, and laughing at myself for seeking culture.

Colombia is wild – it is better than culture, it’s untempered, natural beauty and as haughty  and crazy as the truly beautiful are.

It’s more than taste, that drips down your lips, it’s more than a, “feast for the eyes,” it’s the sound of guitars at one in the morning, while mota wafts in the air. It’s that quiet cup of coffee on a finca and sixteen shades of green. It’s curved roads and snakes with no names that are yellow and black with poison. It’s avocados as big as your face, and the sound of strangers saying, “buenas,” to one another.

It’s standing in a valley with near extinct trees and crossing bridges made of wire and breaking slats, and  paying a guy 5 bucks to be driven to a town that’s just a suggestion.

It’s learning how to fearlessly hop on the back of a motorcycle and being taken into a community that is booming with ramshackle tourism: beach shacks, hotels, juice stands and swimming pools. It’s observing a village that only has school three days a week because that’s how often the teachers are willing to come.

It’s sitting alone in a club while a bouncer watches me and my host does business behind a closed doors. It’s homemade hot chocolate for breakfast and unrecognizable soup before lunch. It’s the Museo del Oro and the sounds of, “Roxanne,” straining from speakers.

It’s floating in Jonny’s pool, while wearing a newly bought, bright yellow bathing suit and staring at the city’s mountains.  It’s smoking meat and dance, always, anywhere, all the time because the doors are flung open, to people like me who just want to soak it all in, who want to inhale and never be the same after.

It’s that place that’s behind me, and in front, at my fingertips, and I can almost touch it, always – because, as one man told me, “tus ojos son peligrosos.”

How Lancelot can enter any hospital tale

16 Aug

Uncle John’s Band fills the room, and I can’t look at my Father. He’s wearing a diaper and his breathing is like a death rattle emerging from deep within. He’s been this way for hours. We have said our goodbyes two days before.

“Daddy, I love you,” I say, and he goes, “I know.”

A part of me still doesn’t believe him. How can he know? How can he know that the distance between us is because I can barely stand to be around him? I don’t know this man with a cane – I don’t know this man who does 2nd grade word problems to help with his memory. How can he know?That looking at this man makes me want to take the fetal position and never get up again – that if I did that I’d be an utter disappointment, but at least he would know how much he was loved.

Though, that’s all done now. A week before I noticed that he was silent, sitting at the edge of his bed with his feet planted on the floor. The TV was on, but I could tell that he wasn’t really watching. It rang out like empty noise that was meant to distract – not entertain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, and as he usual he responded with, “nothing,” and I didn’t believe him because despite everything he still couldn’t admit to me when he was in pain.

I wasn’t sure if he fully realized what he was doing. How long he sat there like that. I wasn’t sure if I should try to talk to him or leave him alone. Our conversations were stilted, and at times they seemed to take away all of his energy.

Months before I had witnessed his writhing body laid out before me, and while my Mother screamed at me, “tell him a story,” and I began to tell the story of Lancelot – not the knight, but the handsome, womanizing, almost-lover that I had become friends with in the North of Colombia. I had no idea what I was doing, but I went with it.

Under most circumstances, I loved telling the story a Lancelot, and it wasn’t just because of his name. He pulled me into a corner in a dark club in Taganga, infuriated with my inattention toward him and demanded, “but Samantha, who do you like? You seem to like everyone,” and I wanted to explain to him that what I liked was being free.

Outwardly calm, but deeply panicked, I couldn’t stop the story’s telling. My Father murmured, “morphine,” and I said, “Daddy, it’s coming, don’t worry. You know what’s really funny? Well, maybe not funny, but umm, when I met Lance I was traveling with another guy..who was my friend, of course. But, um, I was annoyed with him. Ever heard of helicopter Moms? He was kind of like that, and when I saw Lance what I was really seeing was an opportunity to get rid of him.”

All the while I kept thinking, “I’m a terrible person. Not only did I ditch that guy and use Lance to do it, but now I am telling the story of Lancelot to my Dad whose every nerve is tensed in excruciating pain.”

So, I paused and wracked my brain for any other story, and all I saw was nothing.

Everything was covered in this mist, and I couldn’t even see my own recent experiences. I gripped my Dad’s hand, and plowed on, moving onto the part where Lancelot bought wine and cheese, and we laid by the pool, flirting, until I slipped and hit my head on the concrete in an attempt to be both sassy and sexy. After a bottle of wine, it seemed okay to stalk off, in false indignation, on a slick surface.

When it came time for the apology behind closed doors, I paused again. I couldn’t go on with the story, even the beginning wasn’t really parent-appropriate: the nightclub, the traveling with a man who I ended up leaving. It was all in my first months of backpacking, and it was a delicious chaos that I had never permitted myself.

But, here I was, standing in an equal chaos, and in response to my Mother’s demands to distract, it was the only story that lit up in my terrified mind.

She kept screaming at me, “what’s wrong with you? Talk to him, you’re not helping – can’t you think of anything?” and I wanted to lean across the table and scream at her, “how are you making anything better?” I wanted to weep for my life, which took me far and wide, and yet always yanked me back to where I began.

Eventually, the morphine kicked in and my Dad fell asleep. I looked at the white walls and laughed to myself; it was all so absurd.

In the silent room, I took in the white: the sheets, the pillowcases, his gown and the walls, and I knew that each room contained another person who was wearing the same thing. Some had families and some didn’t, and we had been there so many times over the years that the staff knew us. That they were witnesses to our families’ story; that they probably knew us better than our closest friends because they had seen our pain.

I looked down at my Father, “my Daddy,” and again I was wordless. Overcome, I knew that nothing had come to me because everything was nothing in the face of this – that Lancelot needed to enter into this moment because I was trying to save my Dad through a story.

Through my fully lived life; that was rich in experience, many of it joyous, adventurous, and I drove myself into the ground at times with it all because when the time came I knew I wanted to grip each moment into my hands and offer them up as worthy.

Looking into the grim reaper’s eyes, and whisper, “I’ve learned.”

It All Ends Eventually: Turning 30 & A Year of Travel

14 Aug

I wanted to write something profound when I turned thirty. A Joan Didion – esq kind of thing about the end of it all and what it all meant. Instead, my computer stopped working, and then I thought, “but really, computers are on the out anyway,” though I’ve never enjoyed writing on my phone or tablet. Ask my friends, I barely text.

So now it’s a month later, and I’m sitting here trying to write something profound about the end of this year and what it all meant. As if I have the capacity to capture it when I’m still somewhat in it, or in-between it and what’s ahead.

To inspire myself, I looked at all of my photos, not just of my trip, but of the past ten years, and all I could think of was, “Wow,” which was frustrating.

“This is how articulate I am?” I thought. Wow.

In my 20s, I kept telling myself (and those who would listen) that I would get to writing; that the book was coming. I also told people I was lost, and confused, and sad, and then occasionally people wouldn’t want to live with me anymore, which lead to me to moving a lot.

People would wonder why I moved so much, why I left things, why I was so disorganized, “how could such a smart girl not know this or do such stupid things?” or “why in the hell aren’t you leaving him?” and I thought people were pretty hard on me, but really I was hard on myself.

I agreed with the questioning, and I had no answers. I didn’t know how a smart person could, at times, choose so poorly for themselves, or how a confident person could be so insecure. I didn’t understand how a courageous person could not let go of things, and I certainly didn’t know what I was supposed to do with my life. I just knew that I expected myself to do something amazing, and I knew even that expectation wasn’t original.

However, that expectation was what I lived by, and so I began to blindly and fully throw myself at things like, “Account Executive,” “Chicagoan,” “Girlfriend,” “San Francisco,” and these things began to pile up on top of one another, giving me a drawer full of experience with no definite answers.

I began to feel that I wasn’t writing because my life was my book, and that subconsciously I was acquiring the outrageous to create stories that were to be written in the future.

Privately, I raged at the memoir genre and wanted to ask everyone in the world to stop writing in the first person because there needed to be an existing market for me and my experiences when I felt ready to commit to the solitary discipline of “the work.”

“I tried to at 25,” I would answer to those who asked, “but I just wasn’t ready for the loneliness that comes when it’s just you and your computer,” and I knew that answer was true.

When I turned 30 I was in a town in the Netherlands called Ultrecht. I sat down to an Italian dinner with practical strangers, and drank tea because I was recovering from being sick.

This number that I had been looking forward to seemed so anti-climatic, and as much as I wanted to not care, I couldn’t help but feel sad.

“Why was I even there?”

The year before I had a dinner with 20 friends, went a club, kicked a go-go dancer off the stage, and did a solitary performance to ‘I Am a Woman,’ and I thought, “hell yes I am!” but that was the end of something.

This year of travel was an in-between, an intermezzo of wonderfulness that I needed in some intuitive, inexplicable way. I can’t rationalize it. I can’t pretend that I don’t have terrified moments of questioning; the haunting doubts of what am I doing with my money, or why am I with four strangers in Ultrecht turning 30 before a plate of Italian food in the Netherlands?

“Maybe going to Asia would have been the better option, maybe I should have taken this money and invested in the business I want to start, maybe I shouldn’t have visited so many countries?”

And then it occurs to me that these are the same questions as, “how can a smart girl be so stupid?” or, “why did you do that?”

I know exactly what I am doing. I can articulate who I am and what I want in ways that I thought were unreachable, but most importantly, I have proven to myself that I am a capable woman who has the courage and knowledge to live her life as she wishes – that is the point.

This is what will lead me into the next chapter of my life, no matter how daunting it feels in this moment; this piece of proven belief in myself founded on my experience is what separates my 30s from my 20s.

I am now in the process of reconstructing my life from this place, and no, I don’t know what’s ahead, and yes I will write my book – maybe two.

And yes, this year, this ending, this transition is something I will never forget, though parts of it will fall away with time, or old age, or dementia, or maybe I’ll get hit by a car tomorrow and all that will be left of me are the words that I’ve left behind for others when I found the time and patience to jot it all down.

The Spectacle of Versailles

20 Jun

I was awed by the gates of Versailles and the golden arrogance of them.  I could tell how Louis and  Marie had no sense of the world that they were living and the people that they were supposed to rule.  There is no reality in Chateaux Versailles.  It is a magnificent and isolating universe.

My mind almost couldn’t comprehend the enormity of Versailles.  All I could think of when I took my first steps on the stone plaza was, “I can’t believe people walked here in heels.”

The ancient stones are uneven and have large spaces between them.  The marble staircases are somewhat slanted and the dirt paths are full of small stones.

Though, I didn’t know all of these details as I waited in the queue to get in.  I was just trying to maintain my balance and extricate myself from the German tour group that I got stuck in the middle of.  Finally, I asked if I could  move forward and the leader said, “of course Princesses can go to the front.”

I inwardly laughed because I was staring at what a real Queen created, and I know that never will I possess such audacity nor would I be comfortable inhabiting it.

My pounding hard could barely take in the gate, which was blinding in its brilliance each time the sun struck it.

Everywhere there were swarms of people from all over the world.  Once I finally entered the Chateaux, I saw an American man lean over to his son, glance at a Tibetan Monk and say, “bet you don’t see that every day,” as if the Monk was the spectacle.

The ceilings of the Chateaux were works of art.  They made me feel like I was standing inside a painting.  There were long halls of marble statues, magnificent chandeliers and a battlefield of paintings.  Each detail enhancing and adding to the theme and beauty of the room.

After an hour inside I had to get some air.  It was almost too much to see the King and Queen’s bedchamber, to imagine the Lords and Ladies that strolled these halls.  I could see the many spaces for intrigue. I could see how easily once could slip behind a stunning chair or curtain and exchange an unnoticeable secret.

The weight of history was apparent in Versailles every particle, though it’s also a neighborhood.  As I went to the Garden, I saw people running through it.  Versailles is where they exercise and this almost blew my mind more than the Chateaux, though this is Europe – where one lives with history and sleeps within it.

And what is history anyway?  Is it the iconic lanes shaded by the vertical pines?  Is it the canal where now laughing families row boats?  Is it the site of Petite Trianon and the thousands of people that enter and leave it daily?

I don’t know if I heard the ghosts of all those that tread before, but I do know that when I was invited to take the same walk that Louie did daily, my brain wasn’t fully comprehending.

The sun was too strong, and I saw the need for these trees and the intelligence in which they were shaped.  And my heart broke a little when I saw the floating garbage in the fountain that was home to four stunning Grecian statues.

How could one so casually desecrate one of man’s greatest accomplishments?

And yes, it’s easy to see Versailles as the blood it took to built it.  To see it as a symbol of our gluttonous egos that use others to construct the things we want to be remembered by.

But often our greatest accomplishments are also a product of what is both good and bad within us.  We have the capacity to imagine Versailles and the horror that happened within – we are both the brilliant golden gate and the garbage in the pond.

We are what we’ve dreamed and forgotten, and the forgetting haunts our days.

 

 

 

 

 

How I Walked Through Lyon

17 Jun

I’m sitting next to a sleeping Colombian on a bus that’s making it’s way toward Paris.  Outside my window the rolling hills are green, the grass is yellow and the small houses are cream with red roofs. 

The scenery feels provencal, but I know it’s not.  It’s just the backdrop from Lyon to Paris, and I’m not sure if Paris will imprint itself on my mind like Lyon did.  Paris is an expectation, Lyon was not.  It was small, scenic and sliced by two rivers that people sat by day and night.

How can I describe Lyon and its many moments?  How can I share with others what Lyon will always be for me?  A city that I walked through.

There I am, strolling with an upper-class, British student.  We are discussing our Faith over ham and cheese crepes at a cafe we stumbled upon. We are saying what God means to us after attending my first Mass in the most beautiful Church I’ve ever seen.  While we are of very different faiths, the grounding act ritual sits at our centers; it’s how we connect with what we believe.

Again, I’m standing on Medieval cobblestones, gazing at the ruins of a Church that was built in 150 A.D.  Then I’m visiting a Sunday market and devour Macaroons made from the local candy.  

But really, I’m sitting at the Hostel bar, making friends with the owners over a glass of Rose.  They make me a plate of some of the local cheeses, which are mountain and blue.  Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye play in the background, and I can’t help myself. I quietly sing along.

Oh, but I am so tired, and feel that we will never find the Hostel after our Lyonnaise dinner of duck tartan and chocolate mousse.  My new Israeli friend Daniella, is absolutely finished, exhausted after a night with a Puerto Rican who reminded her of how one should be treated by a man.

We are giggling and watching the Gypsy fire dancers.  We are acknowledging that we can only share these secrets because we will probably never see each other again.

I am speaking Spanish to the Colombian, and his French friend Matias is talking with Max in German, but English is what we always go back to.  It’s the only language all four of us know.

The waiter is joking in French, and he smiles in my direction, trying to make me laugh.

The city, both Medieval and Modern, with a Basilica up on a hill that I continue to claim I own is always overlooking us, an ever-lasting symbol of Catholic Faith.

And the young Brit tells me he loved traveling the States because all the girls went mad for his accent.  He said that his East Coast friend got caught pretending he was from London as well.

The ham and cheese crepe is the perfect antidote to my hunger.  The nourishment I need after walking for hours.

Passing by the new and the old, the Arabic and the French, the student, professional and tourist blend of this unforgettable city of shops, cafes and of walking without purpose, toward nowhere, toward the game, toward the river where the boats float from beginning to end, to the bus that I’m on now, toward Paris and all that I expect.

Close Your Eyes and Dance – Lyon

14 Jun

At a certain age you suddenly become less cool in the way that eighteen to twenty-three year olds define cool.  You begin to believe this kind of cool doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t, but in a way it does because we are always looking backwards, reminiscing.

“Remember that time we got really drunk, then got lost and it started to pour, but finally at 3 a.m. we found some corner store, bought a beer and watched the sun rise.” but what we are really saying is remember when the whole world was just an imagined possibility…now we know.

And this past Thursday, I was cool, and being cool was deeply satisfying, but satisfying because I knew it was just for a night.

I went to a club  in Lyon called Sucre.  The club was a rooftop started by people who run, “some of the best music festivals in France.”

The rooftop had structures of flashing blue, red and white lights and people sat in circles beneath them.  There was a long bar outside with picnic tables and a bar inside the dance house, which was a covered structure on the roof. No one was getting drunk but no one was totally sober.

I met a twenty-one year old Moroccan girl who had almond eyes and hair that rose off her head.  She unknowingly possessed a model’s body and it was clad in green silk shorts and a printed top.  She wore white Keds and and told me she was studying art.

When I asked her about her work she launched into a passionate speech about how the world ignores other’s suffering; that we are indifferent.  She told me she burns her art to bring attention to what we ignore.  She said, “Paris is the city of the World,” and I could see this beautiful idealist permanently living there.

Another young literature student turned to me and asked if I knew who Rimbaud was.  When I replied, “yes,” his face lit up.

He said, “Rimbaud is the Father of modern literature,” and we discussed his life and his impact on the written word.  He reminded me how much I love Charles Bukowski and we joked how Bukowski was always drunk in interviews.

The literature student introduced me to his Algerian friend who evoked a shrunken Jimmy Hendrix with a red headband horizontally wrapped around his Afro.  Once we entered the Dance bar, he never stopped moving, his nineteen year old body didn’t need a break.

The Jimi Hendrix character turned to me and said, “I can tell you know how to party,” and I wanted to say you have no idea, but I just smiled.

After forty minutes of dancing I was done, but it was clear that my new friends weren’t ready to depart.  I noticed that the bar had an espresso machine, which I adored, and I ordered one and took in the scene.

Bodies leaned toward the DJ; bodies were covered in music.  I could tell most people thought that this was THEIR moment; that there hadn’t been music like this, or youth like this.  That it didn’t occur to them that generations have danced to their moments and were probably on a lot more drugs.

I thought, “we loose ourselves in the music.  We want to escape our terrible youth, we want to dance it out because who can lightly carry such possibility?”

Eventually, I went outside, sat at one of the picnic tables and enjoyed the fresh night air.  I  chatted with the rest of the group who wasn’t interested in movement.  I inhaled half of their cigarettes because they didn’t think to turn their heads and blow the other way.

My heart was filled with the twenty year old Samantha who wanted the world so badly and who was terrified that she would never get close to all she wanted to grasp.  I thanked whatever that was within myself that brought me here; that could be both in and outside the moment.

At two a.m. we left.  The subways had stopped and so we slowly began the long walk home.During our walk, we stopped at various points to chat, taking small swigs out of the bottle of wine the boys had hidden outside of the club.

We encountered a stone map of Lyon, and my young friend pointed out Lyon’s original borders and how far it’s spread.  He continued to educate me as we meandered back, telling me the history of the gorgeous statues that are scattered throughout the city.

When we reached the river, we stopped to finish the bottle of wine, and discussed the importance of openness and how it can enrich one’s life.  Then suddenly it was 4 a.m., and it was decided that it was really time for bed.

A bike station was found, and the mini Jimi Hendrix decided to rent one as he had further to go.  He jumped on, waved goodbye, and in his arrogant youth shouted, “close your eyes and dance!”

 

Couchsurfing in Provence

12 Jun

There’s no one at the bus terminal to meet me when I arrive to Aix-En-Provence, and there’s no way I can call my Couchsurfing hos, Fathma. The Bus Terminal does not have Wi-Fi.

The kind, elderly woman from Chicago whom I met on the bus is concerned.  “You can use my phone,” she offers, and so I dial Fathma’s number.  However, it tells me that there’s an error.

“No worries,” I tell Chicago lady.  I will work it out, and so I step out into the 90 degree heat with my enormous backpack.  People stare at me when I walk through the town, and some shout, “big bag!”

After stopping by four different restaurants, I finally find a hotel that has Wi-Fi.

Fathma apologizes for not meeting me and promises to come get me.  Apparently, she misunderstood and thought I was arriving much earlier.  Either way, I just want to put down my bag.

Fifteen minutes later I’m standing in Fathma’s small but lovely apartment, hurrying to get ready to go out.  Her two children are with their Father and Fathma tells me we’re going to one of her friend’s birthday party.

I can tell that she’s ready for some fun, and is a continuos whirl of activity.  She’s either on the phone, in the kitchen, running late, forgetting something or accidentally burning herself.

She takes me to what looks like a bar, but I’m told it’s not always that.  Some days it’s for children’s events and other days movies are screened there; however, tonight there’s a French Algerian band and children are sitting all around the stage.

To me it’s strange to see children out past ten with drunken people dancing behind them, but this is how France is.  Parents lives don’t stop because they have children – they include them, and there’s a communal tolerance for child-like interruptions at adult events.

Fathma’s friends don’t really know any English, or Spanish, so I go inside and listen to the band.  There’s a cellist, bongos, a singer and a guitarist.  They play amusing French duets, upbeat Arabic songs and mournful French ballads that the entire bar knows.

When they switch to the Arabic music people begin to dance, and so I join in, making up my own Middle-Eastern moves.  Suddenly, there’s a circle around me and people are clapping out the beat.  I blush and stop, but am strongly encouraged to go on.

“Of course,” I think because somehow when I dance circles always form.

Soon I learn it’s assumed that I come from Kabul and that my made-up dance actually has roots in that city.  Fathma explains to the others that I don’t know any French or Arabic and that I’m certainly not from Kabul.  I see disappointment in the other’s faces but someone randomly gives me their card.

The next day Fathma takes me to a picnic in a beautiful Provence park.  All of the guests are about 10 years older than me and again very little English is spoken.  There are bottles of Rose wine that are both before, during and after lunch drinks.  I drink very little because I’m starving, as I had not eaten dinner the night before.

To my dismay, there’s only baguettes, cheese and pates, and so I eat about a loaf of bread, and then end up having to pee behind a bush because there are no bathrooms.

I get about 15 mosquito bites when I’m in the bush and it’s 95 degrees.  I try to drop hints about leaving, and Fathma agrees with me, but then decides to take a nap.

I watch guests attempt to walk the tightrope that is tied between two trees and proceed to eat some of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life: a rosemary, peach crumble, a decadent chocolate brownie and a plum, cherry tart.  Bottles of champagne are opened, but I refrain because I do not want to revisit the bush.

Four hours later Fathma finally agrees it’s time to go.  We are both wrung out by the heat, though there’s no time for me to nap, as I have plans to meet other CouchSurfers.

This is how I end up watching the sunset, on a mountain, by an aquamarine lake, Pastiss in hand.

The mountain is called Saint Victoria, and I’m there with two Couchsurfing San Franciscans, three Italian students and 10 French students.  The San Franciscans are vaguely awful, totally drunk and talk like they’re text messaging hashtags; however, everyone else is interesting.

I meet a sweet French couple who I am meeting in Lyon, and an adorable, bearded French student who invites me to his parent’s mansion somewhere in France.

After the setting sun we pile into cars and drive back into town.  We casually agree to get more food and then meet at the Rotonde, which is a large, stone circle in the center of town.

Through bad luck, I end up with the San Franciscans who I promptly ditch, but then no one shows up to the Rotonde.  Just as I am about to grab a cab back to where I’m staying a man approaches me.

“I noticed you walking around by yourself and now you’re standing alone.  I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think the people you’re meeting are showing up, and I can’t let a nice girl stand alone by herself.”

We have some banter, as I’m defensive toward strange men, but we end up having a glass of wine by the Rotonde.

Pierre is 34, owns a Marine Consultant & Surveyor company and is from Marseille.  We talk for hours.

To my surprise, he is polite and charming.  He makes sure that I safely get back to my apartment and invites me to take a drive through the Provencal countryside the next day.

I spent the morning having a lovely breakfast with my host family, chatting in English with Fathma and working on the balcony.  Pierre promptly arrives at three and we depart.

Every moment of the drive is a cliched postcard of Provence, and I love it.  The flowers are vibrant purple, the fields are green straw and the houses are made of stone.

We go to the Medieval town of Goult and to one of the most gorgeous rivers I have ever seen.  It is emerald, cold and clear.  It is everything that I pictured when I imagined my time in Provence.

While I want to stay until the sunsets, Pierre has work the next day and so we drive back into town.  Again, to my surprise, he is a gentleman through and through, and I think how sad that this is surprising.

Per my request, he drops me in town and we say our goodbyes with promises to keep in touch.  I stroll through the town one last time, have a glass of Rose and return to Fathma’s.

The next day Fathma and I have quiche and a salad made of crab, mushrooms and tomatoes.  She stands there smoking like the chic Frenchwoman that she is.  An ambulance pulls up in front of the apartment building.

Fathma, glances down and says, “My neighbor is nice but very old,” and continues smoking.  I think only the French can be this blase.

After lunch she takes me to the bus station, and I depart for two days in Marseille.